House approves one-month delay in payment cuts to Medicare docs

The House passed a one-month, $1 billion “fix” to the Medicare physician payment formula Monday afternoon, two days before doctors were scheduled to take a 23 percent hit in Medicare payments.

The House approved by voice vote the Senate’s plan to fund the fix through cuts to payments for certain therapy services. The bill, which had passed the Senate on Nov. 18, now awaits the president’s signature.

If signed into law, a 2.2 percent update in physician payments will be put in place through the end of the year. This will be funded by expected savings from a 20 percent reduction in payments for therapy services.

The payment cuts to physical therapists are not as steep as the 25 percent cut previously proposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Savings from the cuts will be used to pay for the "doc fix" instead of being redistributed to participants in the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule.

When the Senate approved its fix earlier this month, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement they would work on a year-long fix to the Sustainable Growth Rate formula that can be enacted before the end of the year.

The American Medical Association praised Congress for passing a one-month fix, but it urged lawmakers to quickly delay the scheduled payment cuts for an additional year.

"While this short-term delay helps ensure that physicians can continue to care for seniors for the next month, congressional action early in December to stop the cut for one year will inject stability into the Medicare program and ensure that Medicare delivers on its promise of health coverage for America’s seniors," the AMA said. "It is crucial that Congress act well before the January 1 deadline so there are no disruptions in care for seniors."